Those of us who teach from the professional services face an uphill battle in getting people to sign up to and then turn up to the courses that we run.
Unlike a lot of undergraduate training, our courses are not written into a syllabus, PGRs and Postdocs (our bread and butter) are mostly free to attend whichever courses seem useful and interesting. However, PGRs and Postdocs are busy. Even when they signup last minute pressures can mean that they never actually make it to the course.
So how do we attract participants and keep them coming back?
At DARTS6 last year Georgina Cronin gave a great talk about getting people through the door using things the participants were interested in – in this case using a computer game theme. This is definitely something we need to think about in our practice – often the course listings are rather dry, and require people to go and trawl through them to find something interesting. I’ve wanted to work on something as a response to this for a year now, and just as soon as I have a second, I will be!
What about when we get them in the door? What can we do to get them to come back to the next course?
Yesterday, we ran a course using the R for Social Scientists Data Carpentry course. We had a feeling R would be in demand, and it was, it was easy to get people to sign up, and we had 60% attend (which is fairly on par in my experience). As part of the Data Carpentry set up each participant has a green and a pink post it – to allow them to signal if everything is going okay, or if they need some help. At the end of the session, we asked them to write something they thought was good about the course on the green post it, and something that could be improved on the pink post-it.
We had some of the best feedback I’ve ever experienced, and I put a lot of it down to the people I had helping (Professional services staff – Librarians, Research Software Engineers and people from the Digital Services Team). And the reason I do was this specific feedback:
“Team experts very patient and kind.”
“Was helpful and kind.”
I don’t think I’ve ever had feedback from a course before talking about how kind the instructors were. And I’m starting to believe this might be the key. It all sounds a bit hippy, a bit out of touch, I know, but how are we meant to expect students to want to learn with us unless they have a good experience? I know there are people who disagree, who think being strict with the students is the way forward. But I think they’re wrong, and I know I’m not alone there.
In this context, I suspect the kindness comes from:
- Having enough helpers (not easy when demonstrators often need to be paid) so that they weren’t worried about a queue of questions forming
- Having enough time that we could stop, let people catch up and actually listen to the questions. I knew we wouldn’t finish all the material anyway, so wasn’t worried about having to get through it.
Interestingly, my last blog also touches on this – The Turing Way book sprint was such a successful day for me because of the kindness of the experts they had there. They had the time and space to help and that’s really all that people are looking for.
It’s not easy to find time these days, we’re all rushed, we’re all busy. But if we can carve out that space, I suspect it wouldn’t take much for us to be seen as kind. And it the current world kindness seems to be in demand, so I’m certainly going to be looking to implement it where ever I can.